Examining the Miami Dolphins’ free agent options at need positions on offense
So where can a team with limited cap space and needs on defense turn for upgrades on offense?
Exploring Dolphins options at need positions offensively, knowing that Miami assuredly will need to release players and restructure contracts to clear out significant cap space:
▪ Running back: The best options might be resigning Raheem Mostert (who ran for a career high 891 yards, which was 21st in the league) and Jeff Wilson Jr. (who was 24th with 860 combined yards for the 49ers and Dolphins).
Mostert and Wilson tied for 11th in the league in per carry average, at 4.9.
The most expensive unrestricted free agent options include the Giants’ Saquon Barkley (295 for 1,312, 4.4 average), Detroit’s Jamaal Williams (262 for 1,066, 4.1 average and NFL-high 17 touchdowns), Las Vegas’ Josh Jacobs (340 for a league-1,653 yards rushing, 4.9 per carry) and Philadelphia’s Miles Sanders (259, 1,269, 4.9).
Dallas’ Tony Pollard (193 or 1,007, 5.2) sustained a fractured left tibia in the Cowboys’ playoff loss, leaving his market price in question.
The Dolphins attempting to land any of those players with big-money offers would be surprising, though nothing can be ruled out after Miami signed Tyreek Hill.
The next tier of unrestricted free agents — from a price and performance standpoint — includes Carolina’s D’Onta Foreman (4.5 average on 203 carries for 914 yards), Buffalo’s Devin Singletary (177-819, 4.6 per carry), Chicago’s David Montgomery (201-801, 4.0) and Jerick McKinnon (4.0 on 72 carries for Kansas City and 56 for 512 yards and 9 TDs as a receiver).
Those four would be worth considering if Miami decides to keep only Mostert but not Wilson.
More reasonably priced free agent options include Kareem Hunt (123 carries, 3.8 average), Latavius Murray (171, 4.4 average for Denver and New Orleans), Damien Harris (who averaged 4.4 yards on 106 carries behind Rhamondre Stevenson in New England), Cincinnati’s Samaje Perine (4.1 on 95 categories) and James Robinson (3.9 on 110 carries for Jacksonville and the Giants).
Of that group, none of the five would be a clear upgrade — or an upgrade at all — over the 2022 versions of Mostert and Wilson.
It will be interesting to see the market for Seattle’s Rashaad Penny, who led the league in per carry average at 6.3 in 2021 and was averaging 6.1 in five games this past season before a season-ending fibula injury in October.
The Dolphins like Mostert and Wilson and figure to tender restricted free agent Salvon Ahmed.
But I would by no means rule out a pursuit of outside options. The Dolphins finished last in the league in rushing attempts and 22nd in yards per carry (4.3).
▪ Receiver: This could be as simple as re-signing Trent Sherfield and River Cracraft to low money deals as backups to Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle. This is the position that needs the least attention on the team.
A veteran could be added if Cedrick Wilson Jr. is traded. Miami must create opportunities for Erik Ezukanma and the staff likes practice squad receiver Braylon Sanders.
▪ Offensive line: With money tight, the Dolphins could go without any significant addition, though backup left tackle must be addressed because of Terron Armstead’s durability issues.
General Chris Grier has said that Liam Eichenberg (left guard) and Austin Jackson (right tackle) again will be given a chance to win starting jobs, suggesting that Miami won’t spend big on clear-cut veteran starters at those positions.
One pricey pickup who could be tempting is 49ers free agent right tackle Mike McGlinchey; McDaniel’s time in San Francisco intersected with McGlinchey’s. PFF rated him the 34th best tackle this past season, but he earned $10.9 million in 2022 and would be expensive.
The Dolphins are clearly hesitant to give up on the idea of Jackson starting, and spending big on a free agent right tackle likely would signify giving up on Jackson as a starter.
This could be as simple as re-signing Kendall Lamm and Brandon Shell as backup tackles, and having them compete with Jackson at right tackle, and then having Rob Jones compete with Eichenberg at left guard.
But the Dolphins would need at least one more interior lineman, including a backup center, in that scenario. Michael Deiter will be a free agent and didn’t play a snap this past season.
If the Dolphins keep both Shell and Lamm, that raises questions about whether the line has enough position versatility. Armstead, Shell and Lamm are all tackles; Jackson can play tackle or guard.
▪ Tight end: Mike Gesicki will assuredly move on, and the Dolphins are left with this question:
Do they want to spend $6 million or more a year on a legitimate starter to share time with Durham Smythe, or do they commit to Smythe, Hunter Long and Tanner Conner and merely add a cheap veteran who wouldn’t necessarily start?
Dallas’ Dalton Schultz (57 catches, 577 yards) and Jacksonville’s Evan Engram (73-766) and potentially Gesicki are the three tight ends best positioned for sizable deals. Schultz is the best blocker of those three.
Keep an eye on Las Vegas’ Foster Moreau, who had 33 catches for 420 yards in 14 starts last season. Dolphins offensive coordinator Frank Smith coached him in Las Vegas in 2019 and 2020. But PFF rated him as the sixth-worst run blocker among tight ends; Gesicki was seventh.
And like previous Dolphins staffs, this coaching staff has displayed an affinity for players they’ve coached before, including Sherfield, Cracraft, Mostert, Wilson and Alec Ingold.
Also keep an eye on Baltimore’s Josh Oliver, PFF’s second-best run-blocking tight end this season. He would be reasonably priced and has receiving skills, too; he caught 14 for 149 and two touchdowns this past season.
Beyond Moreau and Oliver, reasonable unrestricted free agent options — to supplement Smythe, Long and Conner, if the Dolphins choose — include Tennessee’s Austin Hooper (41 catches for 444 yards, two starters in 2022), Green Bay’s Robert Tonyan Jr. (53 for 470, three starts), the Bengals’ Hayden Hurst (52 for 414 in 13 starts), Minnesota’s Irv Smith Jr. (25 for 182 in eight games; he made seven starts in 2020 and 202), the 49ers’ Tyler Kroft (four for 57, four starts), Houston’s Jordan Akins (37 for 495, three starts) and Texans teammate O.J. Howard (10 for 145, 10 starts).
Among that group, Pro Football Focus rated Akins 12th, Oliver 14th, Hooper 18th, Hurst 30th, Moreau 39th, Tonyan 52nd, Smith 56th and Howard 57th among 74 tight ends.
As run blockers, Hurst was the highest rated of that group, at 32nd. Hurst would stand to be perhaps the most expensive on that list; the Bengals likely will try to keep him.
As perspective, Smythe was rated 33rd and Gesicki 41st of 74 tight ends.
▪ Backup quarterback: Teddy Bridgewater proved too injury prone to warrant returning. And the Dolphins need to take the role seriously because of Tua Tagovailoa’s concussion and durability issues.
So the Dolphins likely need to sign either Jimmy Garoppolo or a backup such as Philadelphia’s Gardner Minshew or the Saints’ Andy Dalton. Here’s more on this topic.